The wait is over.
After having the postseason put in jeopardy at the end of the regular season, the Cougars heard their name in Monday’s Selection Show. No. 11 BYU (18-5) will face No. 6 Rutgers (14-4) in Monday’s First Round.
BYU and Rutgers earned at large bids for the West Coast and Big Ten conferences.
The news was surprising to the Cougars, who “were not expecting that,” according to an Instagram Live by senior Paisley Harding.
“We didn’t think we were, but we’re going,” Harding screamed in her video.
The Cougars were considered a bubble team after losing the regular-season finale at San Francisco. They knew they would most likely have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and got revenge on the Dons by knocking them out in the semis, but fell to Gonzaga in the championship game.
“We knew it was 50/50 — this was a lot of stress,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “Waiting for [the Selection Show] is easier when you’ve won the [conference] tournament, knowing you’re in. But we’re real excited.”
Following the WCC championship loss to Gonzaga, Judkins gave his team Wednesday off and then got back to work on Thursday. The longtime coach said the Cougars first felt as if they had received a slap to the face, but were eventually able to move on and had a “really physical practice” on Friday.
Although the Cougars were unsure of their postseason future, grad transfer Tegan Graham texted her teammates after the Gonzaga game that they should have the mindset of being an NCAA Tournament team.
Sophomore Shaylee Gonzales said the former Colgate guard made a point to let the team know they still had an opportunity to play in the postseason and would get into the best tournament possible.
“She’s just been a great leader for us and put us in the right mindset,” Gonzales said.
With the NCAA Tournament taking place in San Antonio, the four regional sites were named after popular nicknames from different areas in the city: Alamo, Riverwalk, Hemisfair and Mercado.
BYU wasn’t the only team from the Beehive State to make it to March Madness. The Cougars’ neighbor up the street, Utah Valley, also made the bracket.
The Wolverines earned a No. 16 seed and will face No. 1 Stanford in the Alamo Region.
Should the Cougars, who found themselves in the bottom half of the Mercado Region bracket, win their first-round game, they will go up against either No. 3 Arizona or No. 14 Stony Brook in the second round.
Most surprisingly, should BYU make a run in the NCAA tourney, it could find itself against Gonzaga for a fourth time by the Elite Eight. The Zags are at the top of the Mercado Region bracket.
Judkins is trying not to look too far ahead, but said he’d consider it a success to make it far enough to play against the Zags once more.
“If we get that far, I’ll be one happy coach to know we get another chance at them,” Judkins said. “That’s the thing about this tournament this year — maybe the top No. 1 seeds are above everybody else, but anybody else can beat anybody, just depending on the night, the opportunity, the matchups.”